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(See previous Pacific Islands Report items on Friday, May 7, 1999 and Monday, May 10, 1999.)

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (May 7, 1999 - The Marshall Islands Journal)---The case against former Chief of Immigration, Una Watak, has finally seen some closure with a change of plea and sentencing in court on Monday.

Una Watak chose to plead guilty to 13 of the 54 counts against him. The maximum fine for each of these charges is one year in jail and $1,000 fine.  However, the prosecution entered into a deal with Watak, recommending a fine of $6,500 with no jail time, which amounts to $500 for each of the 13 counts.

Watak's attorney, David Strauss, put his client on the stand and questioned him on his understanding of the charges to which he was pleading guilty. Those charges refer to his making false entries on passports, specifically dates and stamping dates on passports of people who had never entered the Marshall Islands. He also point out to Watak that a guilty plea would dispense with his right to a trail, and that even though his actions may have been policy in Foreign Affairs, they had no authority to give him such instructions.

The prosecution had no questions.

Judge Dan Cadra, however, posed several questions to Watak, to ensure that he was aware of the consequences of his change of plea, emphasizing that these questions were in no way an indication that he thought Watak's decision was right or wrong. After ensuring that Watak had entered his plea voluntarily, that he understood the plea agreement (written in English), and that there were no other agreements made that had not been brought to the court's attention, Judge Cadra again asked Watak if he was aware that he was giving up his right to a trial with his new plea. Watak said "Aact" (yes).

Watak was informed by Judge Cadra that he was also giving up his right for his attorney to cross examine the prosecution's witnesses and to present his own witnesses, he was giving up his right to remain silent, which the RMI could not use against him in a trial, and he was giving up any and all factual and legal defenses against the charges.

Before Judge Cadra accepted the plea, he asked Watak to confirm that he was clear-headed that day, not under the influence of any drugs, alcohol or anything else that could affect his judgment and that he had enough time to discuss his change of plea with his attorney.

He then said that the court "must express societal condemnation for this type of offense," that Watak was a public official, and as such owed certain duties to the public. Since there would be no trial, the judge continued in general terms, saying, "Corruption in government in whatever form it manifests itself, strikes at the very core of society." Judge Cadra said that even though the statement made by Neil Milne in a previous session, "if you can't trust he government, who can you trust" brought some chuckles, it was full of truth. "When the public trust is abused, the people lose faith in and respect for their government." He added that it is hard to expect the people to follow the law if their government is corrupt.

In closing, Judge Cadra reminded Watak that the charge was a serious one and that he hoped Watak would consider his duties to the community before availing himself to public office in the future.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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